Stillness and Motion

I love the dirty, loud parts of the city. Almost nothing speaks to those two adjectives better than the EL clamoring overhead. This photograph, from College of DuPage student Ethan Paulson, almost seems as though it should come with a sound clip of the train shuttering overhead. This compressed, slightly tilted upward image, is teeming with contrasts; light and dark, vertical and horizontal, and most interestingly for me, stillness and motion.

The strongest aspect of this photograph for me is the ambiguously confusing implied motion. The upper and lower background of the picture is blurry and fuzzy. The upper background is likely an office building, while the shadowy lower half hints at the covered street scene we know lurks beneath the trains. Both of these soundly stationary urban fixtures almost appear to be moving—as though all that we think we know to be true has shifted suddenly. Focus then falls on the train car, still blurry, but by far the clearest fixture in the photograph. The train appears still, suspended even, though we know if anything were to be moving in this image it would, of course, be the EL. Contrasted even further with the hazy background of the top and bottom is the stillness seen inside the train—genuine silhouettes of heads not out of focus. It’s almost as though this image reflects the frenzied state of living and commuting through Chicago on a daily basis–the almost constant motion of people and transportation. The visual noise that juts at you from every angle in an urban environment for me is represented in the blurring of backgrounds, while the stillness of the train suggests an oasis of solitude. Though this piece is indeed tightly cropped, I think it is notable that there is no horizon, no sky, no hint of anything that is not manmade.

Ethan is just starting his career as a photographer so when you look though his portfolio you see lots of different types of experiments in photography. For me, these early stages of a career are the most exciting times to become a fan of an artist’s work. As an artist starts so find subjects that interest him/her and develop them more completely you can start to see them hone their style and perfect their craftsmanship around a singular subject and grow more comfortable taking risks and finding their niche.

  • Would this image have the same impact if it was in color?  What about if it was a painting instead of a photography?
  • This is a “quintessential Chicago” picture for me. What would be a “quintessential Chicago” picture for you?
  • Take a look at some of Ethan’s other work (link below). What’s your favorite subject?

Click here for a link to Ethan’s work.

Amy Brandolino Kakkuri

**Full disclosure, Ethan is my next door neighbor and I have been a fan of his work from the onset.

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11 thoughts on “Stillness and Motion

  1. Even though I’m not a big baseball fan the first thing I thought of as a “quintessential Chicago” picture would be Wrigley Field. This stadium just sticks in my head, the ivy on the outfield wall, it is one of the oldest stadiums in the United States. What better than a picture of the Wrigley Field with the big red sign and people gathering to see a game to make us think of Chicago.

  2. to capture a perfect moment of this train was unbelievable and takes skill. However seeing this photo with the effect of it being naturally blurry makes me wooo hoo in the head but in my opinion to grab something exciting and fast like a train and have it be “pause” is like the photo is telling me to stop and “pause” your life, even though our lives can have so much excitement and such a rush its like this picture is telling me to stop and just look around you and enjoy the beauty it has to offer.
    On the question of quintessential Chicago i don’t really visualize a fast moving train although that is one of top transportation for the people in Chicago i think of more down on the ground level. Actually this photographer had captured it, and it is a picture of my typical Chicago, the people scrambling to get on the train, or standing by the street making conversation, seeing the street that a person passes by to go to work every day on his/her way to work.
    here is the link

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    Post by Ethan Paulson's Photography.

  3. Quintessential Chicago
    Mostly to be found in the downtown area, the drawbridge control towers. I cannot think of many other cities that would have such a structure. All of my life I was used to seeing these buildings from street level so I only had one perspective. Last summer I took an architectural tour on the Chicago river in a kayak; totally new experience.

  4. I like this photo! Trains appeal to me, as does architecture, and this photo has both. With every trip to the city, I try and capture something ‘Chicago’ and that includes the EL. I’ve tried to capture it from a distance, head on from a platform, and even from underneath! Just yesterday as I drove to Wrigley, I was stuck in traffic under the tracks of the Addison stop and took out my iPhone and captured the train as it slowed into the station. I couldn’t help but notice the uniformity of the many lines of the tracks, the platform and the train. I like to the think of the photo as my best one yet!

    To see this picture go to:

    In Ethan’s photo I see so many lines, but from a different perspective: the vertical lines of the building’s windows and of the train’s windows and doors; the horizontal lines of the bricks, the window lentils, and the train and infrastructure.

    I also like how Ethan captured light – direct, from the lamppost, and indirect, from the reflection of the sky in the building’s windows, then back to direct, the fluorescent lights on the inside of the train. And it is hard to ignore the darkness towards the bottom of the photo, as if suggesting that something lurks in the shadows of the city and what awaits some of the passengers.

    Had this photo been in color, I think it would lose its dramatic statement. That it is difficult to make out the passengers implies that it can be anybody on that train, one can even be adventurous to place themself aboard the train: destination unknown.

    “Quintessential Chicago”, hmmm…. first thought, Wrigley. It consistently ranks in the top 10 best baseball fields and with good reason: it is old school, the ivy, views of Lake Michigan, and it is in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. Also, Sears Tower (I refuse to call it Willis) springs to mind. I am left, though, with what my own photographs have captured…. the skyline. To me, that is quintessential Chicago.

  5. I don’t like black and white pictures i feel they have no life to them. I feel sad and depressed when i look at pictures that don’t have colors. Even this picture this makes me feel like it’s early in the morning and i am there in front of the train going to work that i hate or a class that is the most boring one on earth, i miss my family back home and its all just depressing. I am not even joking i seriously feel all this just by looking at this picture.
    From Ethan’s work i liked that picture in which a girl is sitting on a couch in the dark with blue light falling on her face. I get emotionally attached to colors. This picture reminds me of the party me and my friends had last time i went to pakistan. We had exactly the colors around us in the place where our party was at.

  6. It wont have the same impact if it was a painting because this photograph has captured the moment painting can not capture moments like these because the fast moving train will move on and that moment wont come back ever again.

  7. I enjoy black and white photography, you can do things with it that can’t be done with color. The picture is excellent quality—it captures motion and contrast in a way that accurately portrays the bustle of urban life against inner solitude and reflection.

    Personally I am drawn to photography that highlights small often insignificant details in everyday life. It points to the importance of small things and helps us to see beauty and think positively when we could be indifferent or negative.

    Ethan’s portfolio does show the experimentation of a young photographer. The subject that caught my eye the most was his use of gasmasks (and other things) to cover faces either completely or partially.

  8. This picture captures something a painting could not. you see in that one picture how if you stop for one second even in the hustle and bustle of one of the most hectic cities in the world, you can still find peace and beauty. That split second where the train passed would have meant nothing because the serenity could never have been experienced. To me this is like when they go slow-motion in a movie, you have time to take in so much more that simply would have escaped you had you not taken the time.

  9. Great photo! I do not believe that if this photo was in color or a painting that it would give off the same meaning as the photographer was trying to portray. If any one looked at the photograph how it is now and then how it looked like if it was in color, I believe they would see something different in each photo. Does anyone know if this photo was taken at night or during the daytime?

  10. I absolutely love this picture. It is one that is familiar, but at the same time completely different since in this photograph it is the train that appears to be standing still and is clear instead of the buildings. I can imagine the amount of attempts it must have taken Ethan to finally get a clearer image of the train. The fact that I know this was a hard photograph to capture makes me appreciate it even more. This is why I dont believe this would have the same effect if it was a painting. In a painting, you have the power to manipulate everything to your liking, but with photography you must work with multiple elements that effect the picture.
    When looking through Ethan’s work, the first one that struck me was the one of a man, maybe him, wearing a mask with one of the plastic eye lenses missing. In photography, you must look at an image and interpret what it means to you, and this image speaks of society for me. It says everyone in their own way is wearing a mask at all times, but only half chooses to awknowledge it and half chooses to remain unseen. I am not sure if this is what Ethan was intending, but the great thing about art is that everythings means different things to everyone.

  11. I love the way this picture shows the train standing still in time, and the surrounding buildings going by in a blur. Nice photobgraphic tecnhique to show motion. Also, you might say that it is a commentary on the busy day to day life and that everything passes by us in a blur.

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